What is the best way for a Board to review its Executive Director? Our current review process involves each Board member’s completing a review of the ED and then our Board president’s “averaging” the reviews (without further debate or discussion from the Board) into the final document. While this is an effort at broad input, in reality it results in producing only the most general review, with minority viewpoints often dropped.
As Board treasurer I work with the staff and Executive Director often in different ways than other Board members and this give me the opportunity to see areas of weakness and strength others may not see. Likewise I’m sure other Board members, due to their unique positions of involvement, are seeing still different weaknesses and strengths but because their observations may not be those of the majority, they never make it into the final report.
Signed, Minority Report
You’ve put your finger on an important but oft-neglected aspect of nonprofit management: the need (as in the wider political arena) to protect the rights of the minority while preserving democratic governance by a majority. Nonprofit Board members are often so averse to conflict that they unintentionally shut down opposition—even their own—to preserve the illusion of unity, or at least consensus.
But it’s not consensus if it doesn’t include acknowledgement of minority opinions, particularly when those opinions are informed by special expertise. Board members are charged with governing agencies, which largely means overseeing the work of the Executive Director. Many Board members ask how that’s possible when everything they know about the agency comes from that selfsame Executive Director; and the only good answer is to secure information from within the Board itself.
As Treasurer, you know whether the ED is a spendthrift or a penny-pincher; whether s/he manages cash flow well or whether every month is a festival of white knuckles; whether s/he is carrying the appropriate share (or much more, or much less) of the fundraising burden. If you don’t share these data with the rest of the Board, all the other members are operating in needless dark.
The Nonprofiteer suggests that you propose to the Board president a relatively minor modification of the current approach: that after s/he’s crafted what’s designed to be a consensus report on the Board’s behalf, s/he bring it back to the Board for final approval. At that time, every Board member should get to see the comments of every other Board member, which enhances the likelihood that someone will say, “Wait a minute–we can’t gloss over these comments about how the Executive Director abuses the staff in public.”
The Board president probably wants to make sure that the ED isn’t getting feedback from all directions, because that sort of cacophony is to no one’s benefit. That’s a fine goal, but it should be balanced with the goal of making the ED’s review as comprehensive and nuanced as possible. Your agency’s decision to gather all the Board feedback gets you half the distance to the goal line; sharing and incorporating that input as a group will earn you a touchdown.
Tags: 501c3, Board of Directors, Boards of Directors, charity, Evaluation, Executive Director, Executive Directors, governance, human resources, nonprofit, Nonprofit management, not for profit, personnel, volunteer